By Ophelia Swanson, Program Associate Manager in Honduras
Tradition is the foundation of our memories and everyone has them. Whether it be following familial traditions passed down by your ancestors or creating new traditions with friends, this practice stretches across race, gender, social class and international borders. Tradition is what grounds us, what keeps us focused on our values, and what ties us to others; past, present, and future.
Just as we can recall traditions we practice within our social circles, the communities served by Global Brigades are also rich with heritage and cultural celebrations. Major holidays such as Christmas, New Years, Easter and Independence Day are cause for huge familial celebrations with food, games, and time spent together. There are more local traditions as well such as Día de Lempira or Lempira Day in Honduras that celebrate the indigenous roots of the country’s founding population. Additionally, we have created a tradition with our communities to host “inaugurations” for major milestones within Global Brigades’ development programs such as water project installations and sustainable transitions. These celebrations are a way for everyone to pause and remember our roots, while looking at the future ahead.
What happens when tradition holds us back from social developmental progress? Many Latin American countries, for example, are rooted in machismo. According to Bron Ingoldsby in the Journal of Comparative Family Studies, machismo is a culture surrounding the ideas of male aggressiveness and sexual superiority. Men are to be strong, have authority, and show dominance. It has been shown that lower income families tend to be more authoritarian in nature. With over 39% of the population in Honduras working in agriculture, many as day laborers earning as low as $1-$5/day, inferiority complexes can be bred by not being able to provide for their families. Rural households in Latin America are largely male-dominated, with an expectation for women to be homemakers. With traditions of machismo culture, in these situations, dominance can be shown financially, physically, sexually, and emotionally and many women do not have opportunities to change this dynamic.
How do we confront the gender traditions that challenge developmental progress?
International Women’s Day (IWD) is a chance every year for the world to dedicate time and effort to face the societal shortcomings that are dealt with everyday by half of our earth’s population. It has been a day celebrated for over a century, starting on the national level with the women’s suffrage movement in the United States in 1908. This first bold act marked the need for individuals to come together to bring about change in an unjust world. This idea soon spread into a worldwide initiative with the first International Women’s Day celebrated in four different European countries in 1911. The full embrace of this observance did not take effect, however, until it was adapted by the United Nations in 1975.
“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
This year, the world celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 with the theme, #BeBoldForChange. This theme was chosen because without bold moves, it is expected that the gender gap will not close until 2186, according to the World Economic Forum. 2186 is simply too far away. Our world needs bold changes to fight bias and inequality, campaign against violence, forge women’s advancement, celebrate women’s achievements, and champion women’s education.
This year, IWD events were held in cities across the globe from Detroit to Newcastle, Dubai to Brisbane, London to Tokyo. Both men and women came ready to fight, be inspired, empower others, spark change, and wow their peers. Some took to the streets and some to social media.
Global Brigades is the largest student-led organization worldwide and we have a huge responsibility to also be vehicles for change. We work with rural female powerhouses everyday and we need to ensure that they are the forefront of our developmental progress.
How does GB support #BeBoldForChange?
Although we focus on the development of our 8 brigade programs that align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) #3, #6, and #8, another SDG that sticks out as a priority is #5, Gender Equality. The following is a list of a few gender equality-based initiatives and actions that GB currently takes as an organization:
- Global Brigades establishes equal access to trainings and participation on leadership committees, eliminating gender discrimination and facilitating inclusive decision-making practices, which is necessary for the egalitarian implementation of development projects.
- Reproductive health education and tactful contraceptive distribution practices reinforce the importance of reproductive rights. Access to regular gynecological exams that include pap smears increases one’s capacity to make informed decisions regarding sexual health.
- Equal access to economic resources and equal opportunity for ownership of microenterprises increases economic autonomy.
- Participation in annual Women’s Conferences increases discussion about reinforcing existing leadership roles, addresses harmful practices and violence against women, and puts the tools for change directly into the hands, hearts, and minds of leaders.
We celebrate women who take part in GB’s work in so many ways, both personally in communities with staff and volunteers and virtually with social media. Every time that a #WomanCrushWednesday post is liked or shared, positive female attention and empowerment increases.
We have made many strides over the past few years to include gender equality as a priority within our organization but there is still more to be done. That is why we need YOU: our volunteers, supporters, and donors.
Volunteers already do many things to empower women in communities. Students on Business Brigades support women-led microenterprises such as the Honduran bakeries in El Cantón and Fray Lazaro. Students present workshops to Honduran community banks that have a high percentage of female membership. Volunteers work alongside women volunteers in medical clinics as they provide medications and educational services.
There is one more underrated and less tangible way students have made an impact while on their brigade – being an example.
When young girls in a community see older female volunteers pick-axing on a water project, carrying blocks to construct a latrine, leading an educational workshop, discussing legal rights with a client, or handling dental tools, they gain perspective on their own value, worth, and potential. It may be the first time they have seen a woman working outside her home or a classroom and that image in itself can be a very empowering moment.
Anyone who has gone on a brigade can tell you that the children in communities are fascinated by the strangers that come to offer a hand in collaborating with their communities. Due to the cultural barriers that face those young children, it is hard to think that they will be the ones to alter the status quo, to reach their potential in whatever field they decide to enter. Coco Chanel said, “A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.” With strong, resilient, loving, and intelligent female role models, we are creating hope to allow women to be just that.
INGOLDSBY, BRON B. “The Latin American Family: Familism vs. Machismo.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies, vol. 22, no. 1, 1991, pp. 57–62., www.jstor.org/stable/41602120.